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Unabashed hero worship of the "crusading" CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, directed and co-written by George Clooney, who also plays Murrow's television producer, Fred Friendly. (In the lead role, David Strathairn has Murrow's somber countenance, speaks with his cadence, and goes through a full carton of his coffin nails.) Framed by a literal "Salute to Edward R. Murrow" in 1958, and by the guest-of-honor's scolding assessment of the current state of TV journalism, it centers on his famous face-off four years earlier with Sen. Joe McCarthy, now known in ever widening circles as the Boogeyman. (McCarthy, seen only in grainy archive footage, looks even cruder than usual in opposition to the crisply photographed thespian smoothies.) Clooney, son of a TV newscaster himself, and high-profile Hollywood liberal, would no doubt be pleased if the sitting duck of the past were taken to be a stand-in for the fluttery fowl of today -- Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, and Co., the religious right, Karl Rove, take your pick -- and pleased, too, if Murrow's example were held up to the news networks of half a century later. (But be careful, George, what you wish for: the network that appears to come closest to Murrow's stance of advocacy, if nowhere near his humanity or integrity, would be Fox.) Clooney can surely rival any of his targeted enemies, past or present, in piety; and even, albeit in a somewhat different sense, in reactionaryism: taking up the social-conscious subject matter of the Lumet-Ritt-Frankenheimer generation (he had already done so in his live-television experiment of Fail-Safe a few years back), setting it in the precise period of their salad days, shooting it in black-and-white (not just matching the custom of the time, but Expressionistically matching the Weltanschauung of white hats versus black hats), scoring it with outmoded moody jazz, and treating it in the hectoring, lecturing style of the Rose-Serling-Schulberg screenwriters. In truth the message is gotten across with an altogether unacceptable amount of speechifying; and for all the feverishly overlapping dialogue and the occasional hustle-bustle of cast or camera, it is steadfastly a static film, nailed to a platform. With Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, Jeff Daniels. (2005) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG

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